What’s My Community?

I’m neither an educator, nor a performer

When I was in high school, I played baseball. (Badly.) I also played the cello. (Moderately well.) I didn’t think about it then, but looking back, it was strange to have my foot in both of these camps: the dumb jocks and the dork-estra. I would go to my cello lessons and youth orchestra rehearsals after baseball games still in my uniform. I once took myself out of a baseball game after an errant pitch injured one of my fingers. But, I neither got together with my orchestra friends for Friday night sight reading gaterhings, nor did I attend Saturday morning lifting with my baseball friends.

While I may believe that sports fandom is out of control, I’m not one of those musicians who thinks that sports are an overblown part of society. I think that participation in sports AND music (in tandem with a classic liberal education) helped me to become a more well-rounded adult. Classical music is not the only channel on my Spotify account, and I can relax (while having a beer) watching a college football game. But, I also enjoy a good book. I’m somewhat up-to-date on scientific breakthroughs. I’m an informed voter.

My participation in both high school sports AND music gave me the opportunity to make friends with those whom I otherwise would not have interacted. I had friends who were popular because they could hit home runs or score touchdowns, and I had friends who could play the shit out of a Mendelssohn concerto or Mahler fanfare. I managed to find my way into two very different worlds, two very different communities.

That isn’t the way anymore. I don’t play baseball (I haven’t swung a bat since I was 18), I don’t really play the cello (I don’t perform nearly as much as I used to), and - while I teach kids how to play music - I’m not an educator (at least not in the “school orchestra teacher” sense).

I don’t fit into a neat little box, a nice bubble. I don’t know what - or where - my community is.

When one spends ten years in college and grad school studying music (like I did) or really anyting, one gets used to making friends out of necessity and (frequently) circumstance. When you see the same people every day, in every class, every rehearsal, you tend to gravitate toward each other. Whether you’re unwillingly placed in a string quartet together, or you habitually sit next to each other each day in music history lecture, friendships are frequently foisted upon you. In some cases, they become lifelong friendships.

After leaving music school, however, you are the one being foisted - upon the world. Friendships aren’t “built in” to the experience. You have to work hard to create bonds with people whom you may see only infrequently, perhaps at this orchestra performance or at that wedding gig. Personally, I expected my life to continue the way it had been for a decade: I would make friends with those people who were participating in the same activities that I was participating in, like the local freelance orchestra, or someone who taught at the same music academy that I was teaching at.

This didn’t happen.

I didn’t make friends with my neighbors because I moved six times in four years. I didn’t make friends with fellow performers because I stopped performing (at least as a freelancer). I didn’t make friends with other private teachers because I rarely saw other private teachers. I didn’t make friends with music educators because, well…

Ok, so, I don’t have a great history with music educators. We - orchestra teachers and I - come from different educational and experiential backgrounds, have different goals and expectations for our students, and generally don’t value the same things in our teaching philosophies. Even my school-orchestra-teacher-partner and I don’t agree on some - many? - things regarding music and teaching. In the past, I’ve trashed school orchestra teachers frequently in my writing and my interactions with them. It hasn’t been great. I’ve been wrong - a lot. My feelings have changed, but damage is done, and I still hold on to a number of prejudices.

So, no surprise, I haven’t made a lot of friends with music educators.

I don’t know what - or where - my community is. I’m neither a freelancer, in a town that is mostly freelancers, nor am I an educator, in a profession - and with opinions - that too often conflicts or competes with school educators.

None of this is a real problem for me. (I’m not a super social person - I never really have been - and when it comes to developing friendships I’m not incredibly outgoing. I’m quite introverted and just the act of teaching a handful of students requires me to put on an exhausting show of extroversion.) I’m just curious here: what’s my community? I quite like my circle of friends and I don’t feel lonely or ostracized. But others whose lives look like mine may feel differently.

In October, I’m giving a lecture in Boston about my career path, both how I developed my teaching studio/career and what things I didn’t realize I would need to be good at - things that formal education neither taught nor prepared me for. Though it’s not in my speech, the idea of a social life outside one’s professional life is not something I’d thought about when I was in school, for reasons previously mentioned.

I quite liked having a foot in both camps when I was back in high school. Throughout my life, I’ve enjoyed my diverse friendships. I love my friendships with scientists and lawyers and architects. I enjoy NOT talking about music every damn day. Even in my personal life, I’ve dated teachers, engineers, computer programmers, people in sales, and more. I’ve dated Democrats and Republicans, and people of many different ethnicities. I’ve never felt it necessary to stay within my bubble, but I always knew where that bubble was. Even though I’ll marry and spend the rest of my life with a white, cello-playing orchestra teacher, I’m not as sure where my well-defined bubble is anymore.

This is one of the few downsides to the career that I’ve cultivated for myself. As I will tell students in Boston, I work just a little more than 25 hours each week, and I teach only 40 weeks per year, almost exclusively in the afternoons and evenings. My teaching schedule keeps me in the studio until 9 PM on Friday nights, and I don’t have time to spend Saturday at the pool because I teach for seven hours, beginning at 9 AM. There’s no time for a vibrant social life, even if I wanted more of one.

As the years go on, I realize that I have less and less in common with the performers that I went to school with. While I may have more and more in common with music educators, I still hold on to some ideals that are at odds with public school education. This makes keeping a foot in both camps harder than I expected.

I’ve also sacrificed my personal life for my professional growth. I’ve worked hard to build a life for myself and my family. I did this at the expense of friends I have and friends I’ve had. I’ve moved around the country a handful of times, and I’ve always preferred a good night’s sleep over drinks at the bar after work. I don’t have a personal Facebook page, I don’t keep up with ANYONE I went to high school with, and only occasionally speak to a few friends from college. Now that I’ve achieved some level of comfort in my professional life, I’m looking back and regretting some of the decisions I’ve made.

This is a warning to those who are currently in music school, expecting their lives to continue unchanged upon their coming graduation: this is the most difficult time in your life. You will spend much of the next few years trying to find your footing in a world that is hostile to your chosen profession. Practice and perform as much as you can, teach all the things to all the people, but don’t allow yourself to hide in the practice room or the teaching studio.

Whatever you do, don’t allow your career to become the dominant force in your life, sacrificing all other things.